Get your thinking cap on. Can you remember a more negative build-up to any United game in your life? I can’t. Try as I might, I couldn’t find anyone sensible who thought the result would be anything other than a defeat. Pressed for a further opinion, most of the lads I know offered various estimates of the size of the new bodily aperture we would be acquiring — “be it torn, punched, or drilled,” helpfully expanded a colleague.
Given that unprecedentedly gloomy background, I suppose some brave souls might contend that to have reached injury time and been upfield trying for an equaliser seconds before Salah’s clincher constituted an achievement of sorts. Even as I type this, mere minutes later, I still can’t believe United were clinging on as close as 0-1 until the very death, so predictably vast had been the gulf over the 90.
And so out comes the consolation of the damned: “At least it didn’t end X-nil”, which in last night’s case would’ve meant X equalling four or five. Actually, to be brutally honest, they could easily have had four by half-time. Certainly, De Gea’s fannying about for that luckily disallowed goal deserved to be punished; Lindelof and Maguire should have just been punished for the day’s work, full stop.
What a miserably confidence-draining pair they are under pressure, the former in particular. One seems terrified, the other slow-witted; not a good look for a would-be defensive rock.
Singling out those two would have been invidious, however, given the riches around them when it came to lacking competence or courage. But then, Liverpool are a better team, with much better players, and almost infinitely better coaches; so what did one expect?
And yet United’s squad cost £50m-plus more than LFC’s to assemble.
I’ll play five seconds of the usual 2019/20 record now: “We are all behind Ole/we’re worried he may not up to it/where is the coaching, the investment, the strategy/will Ed and the Glazers ever step up...” etc etc. “Boring tune; got any Taylor Swift, mate?”
The B-side reminds us we are still mere points from the Champions League, and this will be all that matters to the owners for now.
Indeed, I heard a chilling reminder thereof from someone who’d been talking to a Glazer associate last week. They reported quite bluntly that the Floridians felt there was little incentive to turn United into anything resembling Liverpool or City. “The reconstruction costs would be too great, set against the modest extra [financial] returns,” shrugged the interlocutor.
But will they nevertheless feel forced to dip into the piggybank for reinforcements this window, lest they miss out on that basic target? Because it was a valid (if minor) mitigation point last night that United do have some injuries, none more damaging than that suffered by Rashford, news of which reached us during an already grim half-time break.
United are struggling simply to land their choice of midfielder, so one does wonder whether they’re up to the task of finding another decent forward if they do go for it. The Haaland experience was a sobering one for all concerned, especially when the gory negotiating details leaked out, so no one is holding out huge hope for success.
Chin up, chaps. Some hope does at least remain on the pitch in the immediate future, when struggling Burnley arrive at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Then there’s the cup tie awayday at the weekend, also against theoretically inferior opposition, meaning we have three hours to rebuild some confidence before facing our next potential bodily aperture session at Manchester City next week.
Of all the qualities United too often lack these days, confidence remains the most cryingly obvious. Liverpool showed us that last night. They may actually be a slightly overrated outfit, especially compared to the awesome LFC sides of the 1980s, but the scintillating self-confidence their annoyingly superb manager has instilled in them shines as brightly as his toothy megawatt smile. He has a lot to smile about; he’s finally put them back on their perch, and we have played our own miserable part.